The Trump presidency has been riddled with one scandal after another, especially if you let the media tell it. From missing tax returns and multiple staff firings, to racist comments and the alleged Russia collusion, there are plenty of ordeals to point to when questioning if Trump is fit for presidency, but nothing has commanded our attention more so than his personal affairs. For more than two months, the news media has been fixated on Donald Trump’s sex life.
The president’s alleged past affairs with adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal have gotten more screen time than they probably deserve. The salacious stories of each alleged tryst have splattered across international tabloids, revealing every disturbing detail, from Trump being spanked, to his making comparisons to daughter Ivanka. Both Daniels and McDougal have done the media rounds – including appearances on cable news networks and late night shows. Daniels recently headlined a CBS “60 Minutes” interview – which resulted in 22.1 million viewers tuning in, the highest ratings for the network staple in 10 years, according to Nielsen data.
The media has exhausted its “Porn Star and the President” headlines as the news cycle continues to churn out opinion after opinion on Trump’s moral standing. But let’s be clear – this is a man that multiple women have accused of sexual harassment. He has been recorded saying he likes to grab women “by the pussy”, and has publicly supported an alleged ephebophile (Roy Moore) and domestic abuser (Rob Porter).
The question isn’t whether or not Trump is guilty of cheating on wife Melania with these women and others, it’s why the media is giving more attention to the details of his affairs rather than the relevance of them in relation to his presidency. You know, the reason we actually need to know. Daniels and McDougal have become familiar faces and names, but their stories – while scandalous and entertaining – have so far amounted to very little.
Twice as many “60 Minutes” viewers as usual tuned in to watch Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, recount her alleged affair with the business magnate turned president. The adult film star sat down for an animated conversation with host Anderson Cooper, describing her 2006 meeting and eventual hotel stay with Trump.
Daniels went on to say that she was “rattled” by a 2011 encounter with a stranger who warned her – and seemingly made a threat to her infant daughter – about keeping quiet about the affair, and she even admitted to denying the affair out of fear when gossip sites picked it up in the years following. Daniels eventually signed a non-disclosure agreement with Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen in 2016, just ahead of the presidential election. She said she ultimately signed Cohen’s agreement because she thought it was the “right thing” to do.
From the media’s recapping of the “60 Minutes” conversation, there was more to digest about Daniels’ personality, what Trump was like in bed, and how creepy it was that the president compared a mistress to his daughter, than what significance it all has for Trump’s presidency. But one newsworthy detail included in the Sunday night special was that complaints to the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission have reportedly been raised about Cohen’s payment to Daniels, because the buyout might be considered an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign. Daniels’ silence was reportedly bought eleven days before the election, and would have breached campaign finance laws mainly because the $130,000 paid to the actress exceeds what is allowed for a contribution.
Furthermore, if it is deemed a campaign contribution, it still stands as an illegal one now that Trump is president. Documents presented in the “60 Minutes” report also showed that Cohen paid Daniels under his position as “Executive Vice President” and “Special Counsel” for the Trump Organization, potentially debunking his previous claims that the payment was made personally and without Trump’s involvement.
Let’s hear more about the implications of this, and less about whether the president used protection in bed.
In the other case, Karen McDougal spoke fondly of a Donald Trump she said she once loved. Despite his marriage, the former Playboy model claimed she engaged in a whirlwind 10-month affair with Trump from 2006-2007. In an exclusive interview with CNN McDougal claimed that Trump once tried to pay her for sex, to which she felt “sad” and denied being “that type of girl”. Her story first went public in late 2016, after a Wall Street Journal report revealed she sold the rights to her Trump story to American Media Inc., the owner of the National Enquirer tabloid. McDougal found out that they never planned to run the story, and only bought the rights to keep it from going public as a favor to the soon-to-be president.
Further aspects of the apparent cover-up were detailed in a New Yorker exclusive. And now that McDougal believes the AMI arrangement was misleading, she’s suing. Simply put, a media-affiliated illegal cover up days ahead of a presidential election is news. An interview with a woman claiming to be in love with a married man, is not.
Of course, each woman has the absolute right to tell their own story, and defend themselves in any instance of being defamed or unfairly portrayed. But that’s not what the media is giving them the platform to do. Instead, they’ve used the women as ammunition in a war against Trump’s presidency, aiming to further prove he’s morally unfit to lead.
McDougal comes across as an emotionally distraught, betrayed mistress, who’s full of guilt and remorse for falling for a cheating man’s lying words. She even apologized to Melania Trump on air. Daniels, on the other hand, comes across as brash and empowered, making sure to note that this is not a “Me Too” moment, and telling Cooper during “60 Minutes” that she is not anyone’s victim. And since she’s someone who’s very comfortable talking about sex, the media seems to spare no opportunity in asking her for details.
It’s no secret that many media outlets are hoping for these affairs to somehow amount to the end of Trump’s presidency. After all, there is some eerily similar precedence. It was Bill Clinton’s public denial of any sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky in a 1998 sworn deposition that led to his presidential impeachment.
And, former senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards was also indicted in 2011 after the Justice Department investigation found that contributions to his campaign were illegally used to cover up a years-long extramarital affair with campaign staffer Rielle Hunter. Lucky for Edwards, he wasn’t holding any office when those events took place. But in Trump’s case, it might be his penchant for candid speaking that ends up being his undoing – and that’s exactly why the media is now reporting on his careful silence.
To the rest of the world, scandal is becoming the word most closely associated with the Trump presidency, largely because scandal is what the media keeps focusing on. The details of Trump’s 10-year old affairs may be scandalous, but they aren’t news until the fallout actually threatens his presidency. There IS real news embedded deep within these stories, but journalists have to be willing to forgo the noise in order to bring those elements to light.
More important is the effect this kind of coverage is having on what’s considered news. The distracting nature of it all is an insult to the intelligence of news consumers, especially at a time when there are so many important issues and conversations that need to be addressed in the public sphere. Let’s not normalize extramarital affairs as news. Besides, we have more than enough evidence to determine Trump’s moral compass, so broadcasting his past bedroom habits is a waste of everyone’s time.